Upstate New York Stargazing – January, 2017

Author's Note: The "Upstate New York Stargazing" series ran on the and websites (and limited use in-print) from 2016 to 2018. For the full list of articles, see the Upstate New York Stargazing page.

Upstate NY Stargazing in January: Quadrantid meteors and Winter's best early evenings

The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in the constellation Orion the Hunter. The belt star Alnitak is the brightest star in the image, just above the Flame Nebula. Image by Mike Selby, Andrew Chatman (member of ASRAS-Rochester Astronomy Club) and Stefan Schmidt at SC Observatory, Samphran, Thailand.

Updated: Jan. 03, 2017, 3:30 p.m. | Published: Jan. 03, 2017, 2:30 p.m.

By Damian Allis | Contributing writer

Once upon a time, amateur astrophotography was a real pain in the asterism. You had to deal with focus, stray light, random satellites, cloud cover, slow-moving planes, the random stiff breeze, and a host of other issues – all in the dark and for varyingly long exposure times – even before the ordeal of developing the film or plate. You still have the same problems today of composing your shot, hoping for clear skies, and weighing down your tripod to keep the camera from shaking, but we've one major advantage over days gone by – you only have to pay for the camera nowadays, and not the film and darkroom kits.

Modern astrophotography has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to the same improvements in technology that have miniaturized +20 megapixel cameras into the thinnest smartphones. When quality equipment combines with knowledgeable users, images like the absolutely captivating one above are ready to go head-to-head with any space gallery contenders you might find online. The long exposure shots used to generate such images capture all shades of subtle detail in faint galaxies and nebulae, all while making visible a dense starry backdrop our eyes simply never evolved to account for.

Images like the above represent more than just a visually stunning view of the famous Horsehead and Flame Nebulae in the constellation Orion – the above image shows us some of our nearest galactic neighbors in shining detail. While the times and sights seem to change ever more rapidly here on Earth, most of the stars you can see in this picture have been within its cropped borders for many millions of years as this neighborhood has traveled around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Many, many generations on, any future astrophotographers still stuck imaging from Earth will be able to capture the same piece of celestial real estate and overlay the images, giving astronomers information about the motions of stars in the frame, changes to the shape of the gas clouds, and a host of other subtler information.

Evening and nighttime guide

The view looking south at 8 p.m. on Jan. 15 (except for the changing Moon position, this mid-month view is accurate for all of January). Click for a larger view.

Items and events listed below assume you're outside and observing most anywhere in New York state. The longer you're outside and away from indoor or bright lights, the better your dark adaption will be. If you have to use your smartphone, find a red light app or piece of red acetate, else set your brightness as low as possible.

Southern Sights: The "Best of Winter" is in full effect after 9 p.m. this month, with the prominent constellations Taurus, Orion, Canis Major, Gemini, Auriga, and Canis Minor all visible to the south. What makes these constellations prominent are the number and brightness of some of their stars. Orion's body is an easy find to all observers, with the three stars of the belt likely jumping out first. Aldebaran serves as your anchor for Taurus, Sirius an anchor for Canis Major, Procyon is a bright star in a less-populated area to help mark Canis Minor, Capella marks Auriga, and Castor and Pollux help orient Gemini.

Orion can guide you around its neighborhood. Red = belt stars to Sirius and Canis Major; Orange = Rigel and belt center to Gemini; Yellow = Bellatrix and Betelgeuse to Canis Major; Green = Belt stars to Aldebaran and Taurus; Blue = Saiph and Orion's head to Capella in Auriga.Click for a larger view.


Mars continues its slow migration along the horizon from southwest to west this month, setting at around 9 p.m. each night in the process. Mars and Neptune rang in the New Year together on the evening of Jan. 1, although you needed magnification and good conditions to see Neptune in your field of view. The Moon joined this pair on Jan. 2 for a pleasant sight in low-power binoculars, but the bright Moon made finding Neptune even more difficult. Mars makes for a second planet/Moon pairing on Jan. 31 with Venus, which will make for a great sight at low-power.

On Jan. 1, Mars and Neptune were at their closest in an eyepiece for 2017. On Jan. 2, the Moon joined the line. On Jan. 31, Mars, Venus, and the Moon just fit within 10×50 binoculars. Click for a larger view.


Venus remains unmissable this month after sunset to the south/southwest, second only in brightness to the Moon. We gain just under two additional minutes of Venus viewing each night this month, setting close to 8 p.m. on Jan. 1 and 8:45 p.m. on the 31st. You'll have plenty of time to work on training your eyes to see first sight of Venus in the sky, as it remains with us near sunset until well into March of 2017. Venus and Neptune will be very closely spaced on Jan. 12, and then Venus plays celestial catch-up with Mars for the rest of the month, culminating in an excellent sight on Jan. 31 – the crescent Moon, Mars, and Venus all within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars.

Early riser alert


Jupiter rose brightly above the eastern horizon near 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 and by 11:45 p.m. at month's end – placing it high in the southern sky for those out before sunrise. Its four Galilean Moons – Callisto, Io, Europa, and Ganymede – are all visible in low-power binoculars when Jupiter rises, but are washed out early by sunlight even before sunrise approaches. Jupiter and a waning crescent moon will make a very nice pairing after 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 19.

Saturn: Saturn returns earlier and earlier this month, but still may be a tough catch during the first few weeks. Saturn is not impressively bright and rises close to sunrise, meaning it can get washed out by sunlight in short order. Intrepid observers should check to the southeast after 6:30 a.m. after 4:45 a.m. by month's end. Low-power binoculars will show you an oval star, while higher magnification should give you views of the planet and rings. The very waning crescent moon and Saturn will make a very nice pairing the morning of Jan. 24 after 5:30 a.m.

Mercury: Mercury replaces Saturn as our just-before-sunrise planet to catch in January. Your best chance of seeing it occurs on the morning of Jan. 15, when it rises just over the southeast horizon after 6:20 a.m. Mercury is a fair bit brighter than Saturn in the morning and is not close to bright stars, so should be a reasonable catch.

January observing opportunities In Upstate/Central New York

New York has several evenly-spaced astronomers, astronomy clubs, and observatories that host sessions throughout the year. Many of these sessions are free and open to the public, often close to the New Moon when skies are darkest and the chance for seeing deep, distant objects is greatest. These observers and facilities are the very best places to see the month's best objects using some of the best equipment, all while having very knowledgeable observers at your side to answer questions and guide discussion. Many of these organizations also hold monthly meetings, where seasoned amateurs can learn about recent news and discoveries from guest lecturers, and brand new observers are encouraged to join and begin the path towards seasoned amateur status.

Announced public sessions from several respondent NY astronomy organizations are provided below for January. As wind and cloud cover are always factors when observing, please check the website links or email the groups for directions and to find out about an event a day-or-so before the announced session. Also note that some groups will include weather-alternate dates for scheduled sessions.

Astronomy Events Calendar

OrganizerLocationEventDateTimeContact Info
Adirondack Public ObservatoryTupper LakePublic Star GazingJan. 66:00 PMemail, website
Adirondack Public ObservatoryTupper LakePublic Star GazingJan. 206:00 PMemail, website
Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley ObservatorySchenectadySenior Science DayJan. 23:00 – 4:00 PMemail, website
Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley ObservatorySchenectadyNight Sky AdventureJan. 177:00 – 8:30 PMemail, website
Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley ObservatorySchenectadyAAAA MeetingsJan. 197:30 – 9:00 PMemail, website
Baltimore WoodsMarcellusWinter Skies With Bob PiekielJan. 206:30 – 8:30 PMemail, website
Green Lakes State ParkFayettevilleSolar Observing With Bob PiekielJan. 141:00 – 3:00 PM(315) 637-6111, website
Kopernik Observatory & Science CenterVestalKoperniKids All In A winter's DayJan. 710:30 AM – 12:00 PMemail, website
Kopernik Observatory & Science CenterVestalWinter StarsJan. 137:00 PMemail, website
Kopernik Observatory & Science CenterVestalKoperniKids A Visit To The MoonJan. 1410:30 AM – 12:00 PMemail, website
Mohawk Valley Astronomical SocietyWatervillePublic Star GazingJan. 287:30 PM – 11:00 PMemail, website

ISS And Other Bright Flyovers

Satellite flyovers are commonplace, with several bright passes per hour, yet a thrill to new observers of all ages. Few flyovers compare in brightness or interest to the International Space Station. The flyovers of the football-sized craft with its massive solar panel arrays can be predicted to within several seconds and take several minutes to complete.

January ISS observers will need to sneak a second cup of coffee in the afternoon, as all visible ISS flyovers occur between 5 and 7 a.m. until the 27th. With luck and clear skies, early risers will have opportunity to see double flyovers on the 3rd, 5th, 16th, and 18th. Late-January flyovers occur soon after sunset, making them easy targets for early-sleepers as well.

Simply go out a few minutes before the start time, orient yourself, and look for what will at first seem like a distant plane.

ISS fly-bys

DateBrightnessApprox. StartStart DirectionApprox. EndEnd Direction
1/1moderately5:29 AMS5:33 AME/NE
1/2extremely6:13 AMW/SW6:18 AMNE
1/3very5:24 AME/NE5:26 AME/NE
1/3very6:57 AMW/NW7:02 AMNE
1/4extremely6:07 AMNW6:10 AMNE
1/5very6:50 AMW/NW6:54 AMNE
1/5somewhat5:17 AMNE5:18 AMNE
1/6very6:00 AMN6:02 AMNE
1/7moderately6:42 AMNW6:47 AMNE
1/8moderately5:52 AMN5:54 AMNE
1/9moderately6:35 AMNW6:39 AMNE
1/10moderately5:45 AMN5:47 AMNE
1/11very6:27 AMN/NW6:32 AME/NE
1/12moderately5:37 AMN/NE5:39 AME/NE
1/13very6:19 AMN/NW6:24 AME
1/14very5:29 AMN/NE5:32 AME/NE
1/15extremely6:12 AMNW6:17 AME/SE
1/16very6:54 AMW/NW7:00 AMS/SE
1/16very5:22 AME/NE5:24 AME
1/17extremely6:04 AMW6:08 AMSE
1/18very5:14 AME/SE5:16 AME/SE
1/18moderately6:47 AMW6:51 AMS/SW
1/19very5:57 AMSW6:00 AMS/SE
1/27very6:48 PMS/SW6:50 PMS/SE
1/28moderately5:57 PMS/SE6:00 PME/SE
1/28moderately7:31 PMW/SW7:33 PMW/SW
1/29extremely6:39 PMSW6:43 PME
1/30very5:47 PMS/SW5:53 PME/NE
1/30very7:23 PMW7:25 PMW/NW
1/31extremely6:30 PMW/SW6:35 PMNE

Predictions courtesy of

Moon: Lunar Phases

New:First Quarter:Full:Third Quarter:New:
Dec. 29, 1:53 AMJan. 5, 2:47 PMJan. 12, 6:34 AMJan. 19, 5:14 PMJan. 27, 7:07 PM

The moon's increasing brightness as full moon approaches washes out fainter stars, random meteors, and other celestial objects – this is bad for most observing, but excellent for new observers, as only the brightest stars (those that mark the major constellations) and planets remain visible for your easy identification. If you've never tried it, the moon is a wonderful binocular object.

Take note: Observers next month will be treated to a penumbral lunar eclipse on Feb. 11.

Meteor Showers: Quadrantids – Active Jan. 1-10, Peaking Jan. 3-4

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris field of a comet or asteroid. As these objects approach the warming sun in their long orbits, they leave tiny bits behind – imagine pebbles popping out the back of a large gravel truck on an increasingly bumpy road. In the case of meteor showers, the brilliant streaks you see are due to particles usually no larger than grains of sand. The Earth plows through the swarm of these tiny particles at up-to 12 miles-per-second. High in the upper atmosphere, these particles burn up due to friction and ionize the air around them, producing the long light trails we see. We can predict the peak observing nights for a meteor shower because we know when and where in Earth's orbit we'll pass through the same part of the Solar System – this yearly periodicity in meteor activity is what let us identify and name meteor showers well before we ever had evidence of what caused them.

Looking north and east at 2 a.m. on Jan 3. The easiest markers for the Quadrantid radiant are the handle of the Big Dipper above (red) and the bright star Arcturus in Bootes to the east. Click for a larger view.

The name of each meteor shower is based on the constellation from which the shooting stars appear to radiate – a position in the sky we call the radiant. Technically, this meteor shower should have the moniker Bootids, as it originates within the constellation borders of Bootes the Herdsman. The Quadrantids instead owe their name to the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, which existed in the late-18th/early-19th centuries just long enough to have the meteor shower named for it.

The Quadrantid radiant is an easy find if you can spot the Big Dipper – just look slightly beyond the handle to orient yourself. Unlike most of the meteor showers, the Quadrantids are not produced by a comet – asteroid 2003 EH1, an unassuming object not discovered until 2003, has a 5.5 year orbit that places it near the path of Earth's orbit.

How to observe: The Quadrantids can be impressive but usually peak during a very narrow window, with up to 120 meteors per hour possible. Observers this year will benefit from the absent Moon, which sets before 11 p.m. during peak nights. Observers out after midnight are treated to Jupiter low on the eastern horizon and the wealth of bright constellations stretching from southeast to southwest.

To optimize your experience, lie flat on the ground with your feet pointed towards the Big Dipper and your head elevated – meteors will then appear to fly right over and around you. Counts and brightness tend to increase the later you stay out, with peak observing times usually between 1 and 5 a.m. The swarm of tiny particles is distributed broadly in orbit, meaning some people may see shooting stars associated with the Quadrantids throughout the first third of the month.

Learn A Constellation: Orion The Hunter

Orion the Hunter. Click for a larger view.

Orion the Hunter is old, bright, and has never, ever missed a trek out during even the worst New York winter night.

How old? In last month's article, we mentioned that Taurus the Bull was arguably identified as a bull in a cave painting as far back as 15,500 B.C. Orion takes his club and clobbers that date – prehistoric carvings associated with the stars in Orion date back to roughly 35,000 years ago. The seven prominent stars of Orion have been associated with some mythical celestial object for as long as any civilization has a record – it is safe to say that every one of our ancestors with decent enough vision to see any stars knew the stars of Orion as something significant to their folklore.

How bright? Statistically, very bright. Five of Orion's stars crack the Top 50 brightest-from-Earth list, and its seven most prominent stars – Rigel, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Alnilam, Alnitak, Saiph, and Mintaka – make up what is arguably the most easily identified grouping in the night sky. As a human form, the three belt stars – Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka – are unique for their brightness and near-perfect, straight line spacing. The red supergiant Betelgeuse is an odds-on favorite to go supernova in the next few million years – amateur astronomers have been crossing fingers to be around to witness this celestial lottery drawing for as long as we've known it was near the end of its lifespan. At the opposite corner, Rigel is the seventh-brightest star in the sky and is either a triplet or quadruple star system itself.

In our modern grouping, seven stars does not an Orion make! Once you've found the bright body, work your way around the upper torso to identify the stars of the head and arms. To some, the one arm is holding a club and the other arm a shield, while others might see Orion represented with a bow in one hand and an arrow pulled from a quiver in the other.

With the Orion Nebula in sight, search for the close group of four bright stars known as Trapezium within. Click for a larger view.

Orion is a busy constellation at all magnifications, with several sights for low-power binoculars and many targets for quality telescopes. The most famous of these regions is M42, the great Orion Nebula, which lies just below the belt. This wispiness is apparent even without magnification – there is clearly something more than just a star there to see. The Orion Nebula is a local stellar nursery, where gas clouds are slowly condensing into brand new stars. With good skies and higher magnification, you can see the Trapezium within M42, possibly the newest open star cluster in our sky. Very good binoculars and a steady tripod may even help you see De Mairan's Nebula, designated M43, nearby.

There is much more to Orion than the unaided eyes can see, including numerous nebulae and other deep sky objects.

The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae from the opening image lie next to the belt star Alnitak and are not easy to pull detail out of without quality scopes or good imaging equipment. These two objects are not alone in their need for more dedicated observing – even with the wealth of objects ready for binocular viewing, our eyes are simply not equipped to handle all of the subtle detail that surrounds Orion. An image from October 2010 that currently resides on Orion's Wikipedia page does begin to reveal all of this amazing detail.

Dr. Damian Allis is the director of CNY Observers and a NASA Solar System Ambassador. If you know of any other NY astronomy events or clubs to promote, please contact the author.

Original Posts:


Some Light Science Reading. The Constellations: Orion

As first appeared in the April 2012 edition of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter The Astronomical Chronicle (PDF).

Image generated with Starry Night Pro 6.

Much can be said about the old hunter Orion. To Central New York observers, it had (until very recently) been the case that Orion made his way across the Night Sky during the coldest and least hospitable (to most nighttime observers) months of the year. Conditions would keep observers in hiding from him (some of the best CNY observers I know would risk surgical strikes on the Orion Nebula with their fastest to set-up and tear-down equipment). The abbreviated winter of 2011/2012 and reasonably early start of the SAS observing season have provided us with excellent opportunities in the past few months to make Orion The Hunter now the hunted. The mid-April observing session will be the last "official" opportunity to observe Orion before he disappears behind the Western horizon until the most nocturnal of us can next see him in our Eastern sky before sunrise in late August. I then take this opportunity to discuss Orion, one many CNY/SAS members may know the best by sight but may know the least by observing attention.

One of the topics covered in the 2011 SAS lecturing series was how we observe. Not the discussion of optics or the physics of planetary motion along the ecliptic, but the visual and mental mechanisms we use to translate the photonic triggers in our retina into mental pictures of celestial objects. Orion was the astronomical example I used to describe Pareidolia, how we impose a kind of order on things we see despite that order not being present in the actual collection. When you look at a cloud, you may see a face, an animal, or something your mind triggers as being something it clearly is not. I often placed the infamous "Face On Mars" next to the Constellation Orion to show clearly how we see what we think we see despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary (or the two can be mangled together, as shown below). The clouds may look like an animal, the "Face On Mars" looks unmistakably like a shadowed face, and Orion, as it happens, has looked like a human figure to virtually all peoples for as long as we have record of Constellations, the same way Scorpius has appeared as a scorpion to every civilization for which this little monster was part of the local biosphere.

Pareidolia is not just for cognitive neuroscience! One of the keys to learning the sky I discussed last year was to let your mind wander while staring at the sky and see if certain things jump out at you. The constellations are, for the most part, made up of the most reasonably bright star groupings, but if you see any type of geometry that makes some part of the sky easy to identify, run with it. This same philosophy may be responsible for the rise of the asterism, or "non-Constellation star grouping," as the distillation of mythological complexity into more practical tools for everyday living. For instance, I suspect everyone reading this can find the asterism known as the Big Dipper, but how many know all of the stars of its proper Constellation Ursa Major? Our southern tree line and Cortland obscure some of the grandeur of Sagittarius, which means we at the hill identify the location of its core (and several galactic highlights) by the easy-to-see "teapot." The body of Orion is a similar case of reduction-to-apparent, as the four stars marking his corners (clockwise from upper left)…

Betelgeuse (pronounced "Betelgeuse Betelgeuse Betelgeuse!" – marking his right shoulder; a red supergiant of very orange-ish color even without binoculars)

Bellatrix – the left shoulder (so you now know the Constellation is facing us as originally defined) – a blue giant known also known as the "Amazon Star"

Rigel – the left foot; a blue supergiant and the star system within which the aliens that make the Rigel Quick Finder reside

Saiph – the right foot; a star dim in the visible but markedly brighter in the ultraviolet. Saiph and Rigel are about the same distance away (Saiph 50 light years closer at 724 light years, a point to consider as you observe them both)

… and the three stars marking his belt (from left)…

Alnitak – A triple-star system 800 light years away with a blue supergiant as its anchor star

Alnilam – the farthest star of the belt at 1359 light years, this young blue supergiant burns as brightly as the other two, making the belt appear equally bright "al across"

Mintaka – 900 light years away, this is an eclipsing binary star system, meaning one star passes between us and the main star in its orbit (about every 5.7 days)

… are obvious to all, while the head and club stars require a longer look to identify.

Sticking to Naked Eye observing for a moment, Orion is not only famous for its historical significance and apparent brightness. Orion is ideally oriented to serve as an order of alignment for several nearby Constellations and is surrounded by enough bright stars and significant Constellations that curiosity alone should have you familiar with this part of the sky in very short order. As an April focus, it is of benefit that all of the Constellations we'll focus on either hit the horizon at the same time as Orion or they rest above him.

I've color-coded the significant stars marking notable Constellations in the image below. If you're standing outside on any clear night, the marked stars should all be quite obvious (we're talking a hands' width or two at arm's length). From right and working our way counterclockwise…

(RED) Following the belt stars to the right will lead you to the orange-ish star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus the Bull. This is a dense part of the sky, as Aldebaran marks both the head of the Bull and also marks the brightest star in the Hyades star cluster (a gravitationally-bound open cluster 150 light years away composed of over 100 stars). Just to the right of this cluster is the "Tiny Dipper" known as the Pleiades (Messier 45), another dense star cluster worth observing at all magnifications. Both of these clusters are simultaneously easier and harder to find at present, as Venus ("1") is resting just above them, providing an easy way to find both clusters but plenty of reflected light to dull the brilliance of the two open clusters.

(ORANGE) Auriga, featuring Capella (the third brightest star in the Night Sky), is an oddly-shaped hexagon featuring a small triangle at one corner. Auriga, like Ursa Minor in last month's discussion, is made easy to find by the fact that the five marked stars are in an otherwise nondescript part of the sky (relatively dim generally, but brighter than anything in the vicinity). Venus will dull Hassaleh (Auriga's closest star to Venus and the two open clusters below it) but Elnath and Capella will be easy finds.

(YELLOW) Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, are literally standing on Orion's club. Making an arrow from Mintaka (the right-most star of the belt) and Betelgeuse will lead you to Alhena (Pollux's left foot), after which a slow curve in a horseshoe shape will give you the remaining stars.

(GREEN) Canis Minor is two stars (which is boring), but is significant for containing Procyon, the 7th brightest star in the Night Sky (which means it will be an EASY find). But don't confuse it with Sirius, which is the big shimmering star in…

(BLUE) Canis Major is the larger of Orion's two dogs and contains Sirius ("The Dog Star"), a star so bright (magnitude −1.46) and so close (8.6 light years) that it appears not as a star but as a shimmering light. Some would say an airplane, others would say a hovering UFO. Part of my duties as president involve intermittently explaining that it is not the latter.

And, with respect, Monoceros is an old Constellation but not a particularly brilliant one. Having Canis Minor and Canis Major identified will make your identification of Monoceros quite straightforward.

We now turn to the other "stellar" objects in Orion, composed of three Messiers and one famous IC. M78 is a diffuse nebula almost one belt width above and perpendicular to Alnitak. You will know it when you see it. M43 and M42 (marked as "4" in the image below), on the other hand, are so bright and close that you can see their nebulosity in dark skies without aid of any optics.

M42 – The Orion Nebula is, in the right dark conditions, a Naked Eye sight in itself. For those of us between cities, even low-power binoculars bring out the wispy edges and cloudy core of this nebula. For higher-power observers, the resolving of Trapezium at M42's core serves as one of your best tests of astronomy binoculars (I consider the identification of four stars as THE proper test of a pair of 25×100's. Ideal conditions and a larger aperture will get you six stars total). You could spend all night just exploring the edges and depths of this nebula. You can take a look back at the Astro Bob article in the April 2012 edition of the Astronomical Chronicle (From My Driveway To Orion, Nature Works Wonders) for a more detailed discussion of this part of Orion.

M43 – de Mairan's Nebula is, truth be told, a lucky designation. M43 is, in fact, part of the M42 nebula that is itself a small part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex (not THAT'S a label). M43 owes its differentiation to a dark lane of dust that breaks M43 and M42, just as the lane of dust in our own Milky Way we know as the "Great Rift" splits what would otherwise be one continuous band of distant stars the same way a large rock in a stream causes the water to split in two and recombine on the other side.

Finally (and the one you'll work for), IC 434, the Horsehead Nebula, lies just to the lower-left of Alnitak (1). The Horsehead is itself a dark nebula, a region absorbing light to make it pronounced by its difference from the lighter regions around it. To put the whole area into perspective, The Horsehead is itself STILL within the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The sheath of Orion's Sword and nearly the entire belt is contained in this Complex, like dust being rattled off with each blow from Orion's club.

I close by taking a look at the perilously ignored club attempting to tear into Taurus. At present, asteroids surround Orion's Club like pieces of debris flying off after a hard impact. All are in the vicinity of 12th magnitude (so require a decent-sized mirror), and all are also moving at a sufficiently fast clip that their paths can be seen to change over several observing sessions (if, by miracle, enough clear days in a row can be had to make these measurements). I have highlighted the five prominent ones in the image below.

Is it an oddity to have Orion so full of asteroids? Certainly not! Orion is placed near the ecliptic, the apparent path of the planets in their motion around the Sun. Orion's club just barely grazes the ecliptic at the Gemini/Taurus border, two of the 12 Constellations of the Zodiac, the collection of Constellations that themselves mark the ecliptic. As nearly all of the objects in the Solar System lie near or within the disc of the Solar System, you expect to find all manner of smaller objects in the vicinity of the Zodiacal Constellations. In effect, Orion's club is kicking up different dust all year long as the asteroids orbit the Sun. You only have a few more weeks to watch the action happen before Orion's return in the very early early morning of the very late summer.

– Happy Hunting, Damian